Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Day

Today, the day after Halloween, is a day we should pay attention to.  It's All Saints Day.  It's been the practice of Western Christianity to honor saints on this day since the 8th century--though generally in the protestant tradition we aren't accustomed to thinking of 'saints' in the same way as Roman Catholics, who have endowed sainthood on a plethora of worthy people--at least one for every day of the year.
However, I think for most of us, there are saints in our lives--people who we've rubbed shoulders with whose lives speak devotion in their every action, every thought, every word.  I think saints come in all sizes, shapes and colors.  I think there are some who are public figures, but more who dwell quietly in the background, doing their work as unto Christ, rather than men.  And since last Friday when my friend--surely the definition of a saint--died, I've been thinking about saints; so here are a few I'd like to share with you:

When we lived in Tacoma, there was an elderly woman who lived in a retirement home, almost completely blind, hard-of-hearing, and barely ambulatory.  Her name was Mrs. Kosher and she'd outlived almost everyone in her family--husband, siblings, children.  She suffered more in her long life than most, but always had the sweet scent of Jesus about her.  She discipled young women who came to her rooms and simply sat at her footstool, listening to the wisdom she'd gleaned from years of walking with Christ.  She never lost her joy in the great gift of new life He'd given her, and though she longed, increasingly with each year, each new infirmity, to be at home with Christ, she was also content to be His ambassador to all she encountered.  Her face shone, I tell you; it had the light of heaven in it.

She's an obvious one, of course, but there have been others--far more subtle, but just as compelling.  In Sequim, we had a septic system, and before we moved to Whatcom County, we had to have it pumped, in readying our home for renters.  The man who came to do the job was named, somewhat appropriately, Dale Brown, and he was king of septic pumping, I tell you.  Now you might think he would loathe his job, find it as distasteful as I did, as you do now, but he actually loved it.  He came knocking on my backdoor that afternoon, and pretty well pulled me out to look into the hole.  We had a perfect crust, and beautiful tank, he told me.  I stood many feet away, barely glimpsing that filth before having to run back into the house. But he took seriously the words of Paul, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  (Col. 3:17)  He was proud to honor Christ in his work, saw every circumstance as a way to please Him.  I was cowed by his attitude, I have to say.  So often I begrudge tasks that seem demeaning in my eyes.  Mr. Brown's sainthood, in my book, didn't come from his willingness to do such yucky work, but from glorifying God in even the humblest task. 

My maternal grandmother is another kind of saint.  I've written of her here before.  Written of her praying through the night, listening to scripture on the record player because she'd lost her sight.  But there are other things.  A couple of years ago, my mom gave me a box full of my grandfather's letters to her.  Chief, as we called him, was a career navy man for his first career.  A chief warrent/petty (I don't know the difference and have heard him called both), who worked in communications/radio aboard his various ships, Chief met my grandmother in Los Angeles, where she'd gone from her Kansas home to visit a friend.  It seems that they quickly fell in love, and fairly quickly married (though I don't actually know the time elapsed between meeting and marrying). My grandmother was a strong Christian even then, but Chief was a hard-living naval man, who smoked and drank and got rowdy in every port.  But my grandmother had a huge influence on him.  A life-changing influence.  Knowing her, I find it hard to believe she 'witnessed' to him by word.  Her every action was a witness, however.  Within the first decade of their marriage, he was writing a letter to Grandmom's sister, Sadie, speaking directly to what he knew was her family's concern about him.  He'd become a Christian, and wanted Sadie to know how it happened, how Grandmom had impacted his life.  He had always wanted to be worthy of Grandmom, but he hadn't become a Christian for her, but because of her.  His life changed on a dime when he met Christ--the smoking stopped, the drinking to excess stopped, and he became a new man.  My grandmother hadn't pushed (though from the tone of his letter to Aunt Sadie, I'd guess that the rest of her family had exerted some pressure, or maybe just censure!), but her whole life, top to bottom, had been about pleasing Christ first.

But here's the truth: my grandfather was as much a saint as my grandmother.  From the moment Christ came into it, Chief's new name was not only Christian but Saint.  The Word repeatedly reminds us of this.  All those who belong to Christ are saints.  Though the Catholic church defines a saint as someone of exceptional holiness, virtue and benevolence, worthy of canonization, the New Testament makes no such destinction. In Romans, we're told that the Holy Spirit 'intercedes for the saints [God's people] (8:29);' Ephesians 1:18 and Colossians 1:12 speak of 'the glorious inheritance of all the saints;' and Paul tells Philemon that he has heard of Philemon's 'love for all His saints."  All His Saints.  You and me and everyone else who calls Jesus Lord, who 'seeks to please Him rather than men.'  So even if you're a saint with clay feet, who stumbles and falls and sins (which, of course, we all are; which, of course, even the most venerated of Catholic Saints is), you are a saint.  In His eyes, exceptional, in His eyes the most holy of creatures--His beloved child.  So, Happy Day, all you saints.  God love you all.

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